Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hawai'i Part II: The Big Island Part II

 Our first day in the Big Island had been so non-stop that one would think that we would take it a little easier the next day.  But, the reality is that we only had three days to explore a massive island to which we don't know when/if we will ever return.  Our second morning there we started off with a morning prayer as usual, and I gave Justin a good pinch in the arm as soon as he was done.  Not because he deserved it, but because he was wearing red, and it was St. Patrick's day, and I liked seeing the bewildered look on his face as he demanded an explanation for why I had just pinched him.  For the record, I wasn't wearing green either, but my husband is enough of a gentleman to not return the favor.  Anyhow, we again headed out early, stopping for breakfast at the cafeteria, and then drove back down near the coast to take a short walk/hike through some Hawaiian petroglyphs.  We stopped to stare at these Hawaiian pheasants along the way.  That's not the official name, but they're pheasants, and they live in Hawaii.
We also stopped at a viewpoint to see the land that has been added to the island by recent volcanic eruptions.
Apparently that dark streak is a more recent flow.  Currently nothing is flowing into the ocean.
We finally arrived at the petroglyphs.  The signs there said that native Hawaiians used to bury the umbilical cords in each of the little holes drilled in the rocks,  The idea was that the child would then have a long life.  I'm always a little skeptical of this sort of thing, but that is the explanation that was given.

The holes look way too small to be burying an umbilical cord in them.  Maybe they were shriveled up or something when they buried them?  No idea.
My little backpack
After that we drove up and did another hike/walk called Devastation Trail.
You are asked to not go past the sign because it's hazardous.  Presumably because of the poisonous gases.
After Devastation Trail we felt like we had hit all the highlights in the park.  We stopped for lunch back at the cafeteria, and then left to start driving to Akaka Falls State Park.  Akaka Falls is the second highest waterfall in Hawaii, or at least I think that's what I read.  Either way, it's a very big waterfall.  We were driving along, and saw a little sign for a scenic byway.  Our favorite thing!  Justin was already starting to turn the car off the road as he asked me "do you think that we should?"   I am so glad that we did.  It was a four mile detour and it took us hours.  We were driving through some river bottoms that were absolutely gorgeous, and finally Justin pulled over and parked so that we could explore a beach area on foot.

At first we were just looking at the beach from up above, but then we spotted this sea turtle and knew that we were going to have to go down there to get a closer look.  Unfortunately you couldn't see any turtles from the beach.

We had to wade across this little stream to get to the second beach area.
The first beach

The second beach which was not at all visible from the road, but beautiful.

A little peninsula that separated the two beaches, but was weirdly kind of obscured from view while at the first beach.

Another shot at the second beach area.
There were signs all over these beaches about dangerous riptides, and unpredictable waves.  They were also very rocky, so we didn't even bother getting close to the water, but they were definitely picturesque.  We hiked back up and then continued on for a mile or so before we pulled over again to get a few shots of this area: 

Underneath those tree branches is actually a short little lava tube.
We finally got back on track and made our way out to Akaka Falls, which we ultimately felt was actually less spectacular than the things we'd seen on our little side trip.  Although, that is not to say that Akaka Falls was not beautiful as well, because it is.  We certainly weren't sorry that we took the trip out there to see it. 
A little stream on the way to Akaka Falls

Kahuna Falls, a less spectacular waterfall you pass on the way to Akaka.

Akaka Falls.

Akaka falls from a distance.
Akaka Falls actually probably took less time than the scenic byway on the way out there.  On the way back we wanted to stop at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory tour, but we got there only a few minutes before closing, and decided we wouldn't put the employees there through waiting for us to finish before they could go home.  By that time we were starting to feel a little rundown anyway, so the St. Patrick's day feast of cabbage and corned beef back at the cafeteria was a welcome sight.  

The next morning was our last day of vacation.  We packed up, checked out, and left the park for the last time.  We drove straight out to a beach we had read about where, by all accounts you can see a ton of sea turtles.  It was also a black sand beach, which we thought was beautiful, but in a very odd kind of way.  Even Vivian couldn't stop staring at the ground while we were walking around.  The sand is of course, black because it is made from little bits of lava rock, which also makes it sparkle.  There were signs there asking you not to remove sand, so I guess we aren't the only ones who like it.  
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

Vivian seemed quite wary of actually touching the black sand, but after a few moments of deliberation couldn't resist.
There were in fact a lot of sea turtles at that beach.  We probably saw 7 or 8, but none of them came to shore.  We were there for a couple of hours, and though a few of them got very close to shore, they stayed in the shallow water.
After multiple failed attempts, Justin finally got a good shot of one surfacing for air.
Interestingly enough, to us anyway, the crabs on that beach were also black, to blend into the black rocks and sand.
I think the black makes them look even creepier.
When we were done exploring the beach in it's entirety, checking out all the little tide pools for the different little fishes and and such we decided it was time to leave.  We needed to get lunch, and we wanted to find another beach somewhere closer to the ocean where we could take a final swim.  
On the other side of the beach, was this pond, that I thought was very pretty.
We drove back to Kona, ate lunch, and began our hunt for a swimming beach.  Our first few attempts landed us in a boat harbor, and then in the middle of a tourist district where there was plenty of shoreline, but no beach.  We were running out of time, but finally found a beach.  We changed into swimsuits in the car, and somehow managed to avoid being exhibitionists, but that was luck more than skill.  If anyone had ventured closer to the car, it would have been a very interesting experience for them.  Who knows, maybe they did and we just didn't see them.

At the beach we had found the water was warm, the waves were calm enough, but about three feet in it became horribly rocky.  We swam in a couple of times and then gave up on it.  We moved down that beach to the next lifeguard tower, and there were big pools of water with sandy bottoms in the shallow water.  We took Vivian in and the three of us sort of bobbed around in there for an hour or so and then rushed to the airport.  We had rinsed off, but in a hurry, so we both ended up with big patches of skin crusted up in salt, and my hair, of course looked even more lovely than usual.  All the same, we arrived on time, got checked in and made it through security without incident.  We really liked the Kona airport, it's tiny, and everything is outdoors.  These pictures were taken waiting at our gate, and they are our last from the vacation. 

Vivian showing off her little pedicure that she received while sleeping.  It was the only way to get them painted.
The return flight connected back in Honolulu, and because everything in that city seems to be a hassle, we once again spent an entire layover walking from the far end of one terminal to the far end of the other.  There is a shuttle, but it was unclear whether or not you had to go back through security if you used it.  We determined that we didn't have enough time to take the risk.  Once again we showed up at our gate tired, sweaty, and frazzled, with an energetic baby.  Thankfully, she slept almost the entire flight home, and we arrived back in Salt Lake 8 days after departure, grateful to see that spring seems to have finally made it's arrival.  Now if only we could figure out how to get Vivian back on Utah time...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hawai'i Part II: The Big Island Part I

Our flight out of Honolulu arrived in Kona around 8pm, and we were amazed at how quickly, and efficiently our rental car was secured and we were on the road to the Kilauea Military Camp, which is located inside of Hawaii Volcano National Park.  It was a two and a half hour drive out to the camp, and we quickly discovered that the road out there was narrow and winding, with slow speed limits.  I felt like we had been driving for 5 hours already, and was feeling pretty worn down when I caught a brief look at a red glow atop a mountain.  I practically shouted at Justin that I had just seen the volcano, and asked if he saw it too.  He looked at me like he was sure I was joking, and then like I was crazy when he realized my sincerity.  I caught two more glimpses of it through the trees before he saw what I was talking about.  Each time I saw it I got more excited and he got more insistent that I was losing my mind.  When he finally spotted it, he couldn't tear his eyes away from the window and told me several times that this was possibly one of the coolest things he'd ever seen.  One side of me wanted very much to mock him for that statement, but I couldn't, because I kind of agreed.

We finally made it to the camp, checked into our cabin and went straight to bed.  The accommodations at KMC were nicer than those on Oahu.  (Although the cabins in Oahu have the added benefit of kitchens and a grill for each cabin.)  We stayed in one of the smallest cabins at KMC which which was a two bedroom, with a living area, and bath.  The next morning we woke up and decided to try out the cafeteria at KMC since our alternatives for breakfast involved wasting a lot of time driving into the nearest town for food.  As it turns out, the cafeteria offers 25% discount for anyone ranked E1-E5. Since Justin and I are still E5's he whipped out his military ID, and suddenly all of our food became very affordable.  This came as something of a huge relief to us, since we are self-described "budget vacationers."  We try and do things for less, in the hopes that this will allow us to do more, more often.  So far this philosophy has been working out very well for us.  We were bracing ourselves a little bit for how much money we thought we might end up dropping on food while visiting the Big Island.  We had budgeted as much for food there as we sometimes spend on everything for one of our little weekend getaways.  Thankfully we came in drastically under budget.
Vivian and I doing a little photo shoot in the cafeteria while we waited for Justin to return with our food.

Vivian and I doing a little photo shoot in the cafeteria while we waited for Justin to return with our food.

Vivian and I doing a little photo shoot in the cafeteria while we waited for Justin to return with our food.
After breakfast we decided that our first stop should be the visitor's center.  On the way we stopped at the steam vents.  

We were momentarily obscured from view when a big gust of steam shot up out of the vent nearby.
The steam vents made us feel a little like we were visiting a tropical version of Yellowstone.  After securing a park map at the visitor's center, we decided to drive straight out to see the volcano.  I was super excited to see lava.  As it turns out, although the volcano is in a state of constant eruption, at this time the activity is so minimal that lava is only visible by air.  I was initially super disappointed, but the ranger I cornered to ask about where I could go to see lava suggested that we come back at night.  She reassured me that the reflection of the lava in the steam, that created the red glow that we had seen on the way in the night before would still be very cool.
The smoking volcano crater
So we settled for a few shots of the steaming crater, and returned to the visitor's center.  From the visitor's center we left on a little walk to Sulfur Springs.  The walk itself was short, but very pretty.  Although, we were a little alarmed by the signs along the way warning us of the poisonous gases, and advising visitors with infants to stay out of that portion of the park.  We risked it, and realized later, that those signs are everywhere in the park.  Vivian seems no worse for the experience. 
The trail to Sulfur Springs

Sulfur crystals
After the hike we decided to watch a movie at the visitor's center that I wanted to see.  The short film  documented the history of the volcanic eruptions in the park. Justin wasn't super excited about the movie, but agreed that it might be interesting, so we took our seats in the theater a minute or two before the film started.  I remember thinking as the opening credits started that it was a much older movie than I had anticipated.  Much older, as in, I think it was produced in the sixties.  The next thing I knew I was waking up to catch the last 10 minutes or so of what apparently was a rather riveting production of spewing lava and the ensuing devastation and destruction.  The part I saw was very interesting.  I did better than Vivian, she slept through all of it.  Justin saw the whole thing and reported afterwards that it was great, and he's glad "we" watched it.  

Next we decided to take a short hike to Thurston Lava Tube, which we had read about when planning the trip, and I was pretty excited for this.  It had sounded really cool.  
Outside the lava tube

Inside the lava tube

Inside the lava tube
It didn't disappoint.  I thought that the lava tube was one of the best features in the park, and it was a super short little walk to get to it.  On the way back out, Vivian decided that her lunch time had arrived.  We were trapped behind a large group of Japanese tourists, who were moving very slowly along the path when she started writhing around in the baby carrier, and crying.  A Japanese woman who had stopped to comment on her cuteness, turned and yelled something to the group in Japanese, and suddenly a path was cleared for us and we were able to hustle her back to the car where she got an appetizer, and then we drove back to our cabin to change into hiking clothes, finish nursing her, and then get lunch.  Turns out the cafeteria has very short lunch hours.  Vivian was the only one that got lunch.  We resorted to visiting a little shop for some exceptionally pricey trail food to tide us over until dinner.  

Once we had our food dilemma solved we launched out on a hike to the lava lake.  The Kilauea Iki volcano erupted in 1959 (Justin had to tell me all about this, since it was detailed in the movie that I slept through) and created a massive lava lake.  The lake was about 400 feet deep.  In 1980 geologists apparently drilled down and discovered that there was still molten lava that had yet to cool completely, 20 years after the fact.  They have since decided to not drill again, fearing that they may trigger another eruption.  There is still steam escaping from big fractures in the surface of the lava lake.  I regurgitate this information here only because I think it necessary to understand how cool we thought the lava lake was, and because I found it somewhat interesting.  Usually any time I'm in a National Park and I start hearing something like "...happened millions of years ago as the Earth's crust, blah, blah, blah..." and I'm done.   I don't care.  I just want to see the formation.  How it got there, and what forces were at play for millions of years is just not interesting to me, but I found this to be an exception.  Hopefully anyone who reads this will agree.
At the trailhead to the lava lake, which is outside of Thurston lava tube, so this was taken before our "lunch," and change into hiking clothes.
Justin on the surface of the lava lake. 
The lava lake

Steam escaping from cracks in the lake surface.

Justin, near one of the biggest steam vents on the edge of the lava lake

A bush growing up out of the ground in a portion of the lake where the lava is broken into loose pieces.
Justin on the return trail from up out of the lava lake.

The lava lake from a viewing point.
We were determined to not miss dinner, but the lava lake hike left us with just enough time to drive out to the edge of the park and see where lava had created the sea arch.  As it turns out the temperature change was one of the oddest experiences about our visit to the sea arch.  It was 50 or 60 degrees most of the time we were in the park because of the higher elevation (a little over 4,000 feet) but the weather changed to 80 degrees by the time we got down to sea level.  It was weird feeling the temperature change so drastically, so quickly.  The Sea Arch was quite spectacular.
Walking from the parking lot out to the Sea Arch.  Vivian's jacket is for the cool ocean breeze.

So not the best picture of my baby girl.  She looks stoned, but the scenery is cool.
After dinner that night we made our way back to the erupting crater, and the ranger was right, the lava reflecting in the steam was pretty amazing.  

A close up of the opening.
Because we covered so much in just one day I've decided to leave the rest of the Big Island to future posts.  It feels like too much to tackle in one post, and too much to write in one sitting.